Over a year after the release of their fantastic album Lost in the Dream, you’d think the War on Drugs would be tired of playing the same songs over and over again, night after night. After all, the band has been touring steadily behind the album since it came out, and being on the road for that amount of time can certainly take a toll on you. But as Wednesday night’s performance at Covington’s Madison Theater suggested, the group is far from being tired. In fact, perhaps because they know the songs so well at this point, the band actually sounds more comfortable and confident with their material than ever before.
The crowd was mellow and receptive Wednesday night, greeting every hoot, holler and extended guitar solo from frontman Adam Granduciel with a warm, appreciative response. The band came out and slowly built into opener “Burning,” with Granduciel clad in his trusty denim jacket. They then flashbacked into older favorites “Arms Like Boulders” from 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues and “Baby Missiles” from 2011’s Slave Ambient, which received delightful cheers of approval from longtime fans and newcomers alike. “Baby Missiles” in particular was a bit more soothing than its rambunctious studio counterpart, but just as upbeat and electrifying, with Granduciel managing to whip out his harmonica in between jangling his 12-string.
They followed with a chunk of material pulled from Lost in the Dream, starting with the album’s title track before launching into “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” which never seems to disappoint. The song proved to be an early highlight, and Granduciel and company were able to stretch out the already lengthy song a bit more, with Granduciel taking the lead and the rest of the band following along masterfully.
“Red Eyes” sounded as blazing and uplifting as it does on record, albeit with a little more of that subtle live show attitude thrown in the mix. Granduciel exploded during the song’s solos, showing off his skillful guitar work and impressive array of effects.
The band seemed to be in good spirits, with Granduciel even commenting on how much they love playing in the area. He also gave full introductions to the rest of the group during an extended intro to “Eyes to the Wind,” which includes bassist David Hartley, keyboardist Robbie Bennett and drummer Charlie Hall, along with touring members Anthony LaMarca (a Youngstown, Ohio native) on guitar/keyboards and Jon Natchez on saxophone/keyboards. “Eyes to the Wind” was light, breezy and quite refreshing for that point in the night. Another perfect song played at just the right moment.
The band again took the opportunity to jam out on “Under the Pressure” and Slave Ambient standout “Come to the City,” the latter of which closed out their main set. They returned for a gracious five song encore, with four of the five songs being oldies, including “Black Water Falls,” “Buenos Aires Beach,” “I Was There” and “Comin’ Through.” They were joined onstage by the National’s Bryan Devendorf, who grew up across the river in Cincinnati, on added percussion. They ended the evening with “Suffering,” and sadly there were no cover songs which the band likes to surprise audiences with every now and then. With what we were given, it’s completely forgivable.
Opening act the Everymen brought their enthusiastic New Jersey-punk-rock-with-a-saxophone to the stage and put on a highly energized show. They were the perfect embodiment of good-hearted, fast-paced rock and roll, and ended their set with an epic guitar-saxophone duel where everyone walked away winning. At first, the pairing with the War on Drugs seemed strange, but in the end they accomplished what every good opening act should do: get the audience pumped up for the main event, which the Everymen did so brilliantly.
Throughout the show both the stage and lighting fit the mood of the music perfectly. At times when the shadows were bouncing off the walls the Madison felt like a psychedelic dance hall by way of San Francisco 1967. Of course, the theater itself never lacks in charm or personality, and overall it made for a great night of audio and visual stimulation.
Arms Like Boulders
Lost in the Dream
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Eyes to the Wind
Under the Pressure
Come to the City
Black Water Falls
Buenos Aires Beach
I Was There